The turbolift doors slid open and Artoo rolled out into the corridor, whistling and beeping as loud as his speakers allowed. The droid rolled straight to the pair of Imperial Sovereign Protectors guarding the only door across from the turbolift and nudged the closest one. The guards saw the back of a woman crumpled on the floor of the turbolift. They cautiously approached, one in the lead and his partner guarding his back.
The first one knelt next to her and rolled her over onto her back. Mara jammed the lightsaber hilt into his torso between the joints of his armor plating. The green blade shot out his back and slid through his side as she pushed it across.
Artoo jammed his arc welder into the thigh of the second Imperial Sovereign Protector and the shock caused his leg to buckle and his attention jerked back to the droid with a yell. Mara pivoted on her knees, jumped to her feet, and continued the lightsaber’s swing across the second guard’s body.
She shut off the lightsaber and stepped over the bodies. Her lower back ached from that bit on the lift floor. She stretched to ease it before she looked down at the droid, who was beeping smugly. “So you’ll follow the plan as long as you get to zap somebody. Good to know.” She retrieved the security key from the guard’s belt and opened the door.
They entered an empty control room. Half of it looked dedicated to the functioning of the biological equipment beyond the windows. The other half had data streams focused on the war outside the Citadel. One viewscreen focused on green rancors ripping apart an armored vehicle, while the other showed a view of Mon Cal’s ocean and huge columns of water being lifted into the air.
Mara pointed to that side. “You should be able to hijack the signal to the World Devastators from there if it has a live feed.” Artoo beeped affirmatively. “Get them off New Republic planets and make them attack the Sith forces.” Artoo trilled happily and rolled over to that side of the room. She left him to it and headed to the next set of doors.
Her danger sense flared right before they slid open ahead of a black robed humanoid who screamed as he charged with a red-bladed lightsaber. She spun out of his way and ignited Luke’s lightsaber as she faced him again. His scream ended as it went through his lungs. Her danger sense lowered its level of intensity to evacuate rather than peril. She focused beyond that. More life forms ahead, but none that seemed mobile. She waited for another guard to pop into view while her abdomen muscles tensed for another cramp. It didn’t develop or the pain-blocking Force technique was still in effect.
The next room had a lower floor than the control room and the overhead lighting had been dimmed so that the glow from the illuminated cloning tanks lit the metal grated floor between them. Ten tanks were arranged into two rows and a clear aisle to the nutrient generator against the back wall. The clones floating inside seemed to be arranged in a staircase of ages: the youngest in the tanks closest to the steps she came down and the oldest—a mature male in his thirties with red hair untouched by gray—floated in the tank to the right of the nutrient generator. A familiar face to the haggard and wrinkled face that raised her, that lied to her, that stole children to warp them, that put this parasite inside her, that engineered terror here and spread it across the galaxy with his World Devastators. He had claimed to have hair like hers when he was younger. So there was something he hadn’t lied about. Her hand tightened on the lightsaber as she turned away from that tank. The tank across from him on the left was empty. Mara frowned at that, but brightened when she saw the toolbox on the floor. Now that gave her options. She clipped the lightsaber to her belt.
Her first plan had been to wreck the tanks and then tweak the atmospheric controls to make the air more flammable, which was risky for escaping. She dug into the tool box and pulled out a spanner, wire strippers, and pliers. She would need to sacrifice the power pack of her blaster, but she had the supplies to turn the generator into a bomb with a slower rate of detonation. It had been years since she’d handcrafted a bomb. Thermal detonators were easier, but when one didn’t have a thermal detonator, one had to improvise. The generator’s panel came off easily and she delved into its innards.
While Mara worked on stripping wires, she sought out Luke through the bond. He was focused on his situation, buoyed by his sister’s presence, disgusted and angry over something Sidious had orchestrated. Situation normal then.
She pulled the power cell from the heavy blaster pistol. Her danger sense spiked. She twisted to look behind her. The body on the floor hadn’t moved out of the doorway and the door out of the control room was still closed. She scrutinized her work on the generator. Nothing wrong with the wiring. This design left a fifteen minute window before exploding. Plenty of time to leave and catch up with the Skywalker twins. It wasn’t fair for them to have all the fun of beating Sidious.
But first before making the final connections, she turned and shouted through the tank room. “Artoo, are you finished?” The droid trilled in the affirmative. “Okay, I’m making the final connections and then we’re out of here.” She carefully lodged the power cell between the generator’s support frame and the motor. The stripped wires coiled around the cell’s output matrix and an assembly bolt finished the connection. She dropped the pliers next to the spanner on the floor as she stood. No need to be careful with evidence on this mission.
Her foot landed on the first step back up to the control room when her danger sense all but yanked her by the arm and jerked her around. The oldest clone’s eyes were open and staring at her. “Shavit,” she whispered. Familiar adrenaline made her heart pound and shortened her breaths.
The clone raised his hand and the tank shattered spilling the tank water through the grates in the floor. The lightsaber on the floor shot through the air to his waiting palm. His lips twisted up in a thin smile. “My…” his voice grew stronger. “My Hand.”
Her jumbled emotions threatened to overwhelm her like a wave at sea and pull her under with a hidden current. The title she had worked so hard for and had yearned so long for said brokenly from a clone of the monster who tried to break her with her loyalty and duty and who was breaking the galaxy right now.
That realization dropped a force field of calm determination around her. Luke’s lightsaber fit her hand, even though the grip was different she liked how it felt. “Not anymore. Consider this my official resignation.” The smile vanished from his face like it had never been attempted. She activated the lightsaber and the green blade illuminated the lurking shadows. “You want to destroy the galaxy, Sidious, you have to go through me.”
The clone growled and lit the red lightsaber. He rushed forward swinging it. She parried the slash without thinking about it and sent both blades into one of the clone tanks on the left. The clari-crystalline of the tank shattered, soaking both combatants.
The clone stepped back, but didn’t lower his lightsaber. Mara waited for his next move, wishing her last sparring session with Luke wasn’t twenty-three days ago. Her balance was stable; the fetus wasn’t heavy enough to throw it off. She ignored the ticks of the timer in her head. The clone swung toward Mara’s left. She blocked the red blade and shoved with the Force. He lost his footing on the metal grating and landed against an occupied cloning tank, cracking the clari-crystalline.
Mara ran forward. He blocked her green blade, but she continued pushing forward until the cracks shattered and dug into the clone’s bare back.
He cried out from the pain and shoved her back. She ducked to the side. Her instinctive returning swing pushed him off balance again. Sidious’ clone staggered into another tank. His shoulder didn’t break this one. Mara sliced open the barrier as he ducked her second swing. She got around in front of him while the tank solution poured out on him. She panted heavily as she watched for his next move.
The clone stepped back out of the liquid and glanced at the modified generator. Another adrenaline surge blotted out the twist in her abdomen. He couldn’t interfere with her bomb. Mara charged.
He parried her blow, but she shifted her stance and used her momentum to shove her opponent into another intact cloning tank. The clari-crystalline shattered around the clone’s sword arm and rivulets of blood covered it. The body hung from the wires and feeding tubes as the liquid cascaded out. How had she known to do that? It wasn’t a move she had practiced, but she had known to do it without thinking about it.
The clone pushed off the shattered remains of the tank and swung at her again. She planted her feet with the same precision she would for a ballet and twisted her torso with a back bend, evading the blade. He staggered to catch up with his over-extended reach. She slipped the green blade under his arms and across his torso. The clone’s body hit the metal floor in two meaty thumps. The red lightsaber turned itself off as it clattered against the metal grating.
Mara inhaled deeply before the squeeze under her stomach made it hard to breathe. She staggered up the steps. “Artoo, we have to go now!” The cramp eased as she crossed the control room. The droid rolled to the door first, whistling for the human to hurry.
The blast caught her in the center of the corridor and slammed her against a metal wall.